Welcome back to This American Death, Multiversity’s monthly annotations column on Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta’s “East of West” from Image Comics. I’ll be taking you through each issue of and explaining references, tossing out theories, and keeping track of some of the major events while giving them context. Since I won’t catch nearly everything the book has to offer and have been wrong plenty of times in my life, I’d love to see your thoughts and theories pop up in the comments section below.
Special thanks to the incomparable Tim Daniel for the great banner we’ve been using!
Keep in mind that we’ll be spoiling every issue, because I’m going to assume you’ve already read the issues. Why else would you be reading an annotations column on “East of West”?
This month we spent some quality time with John Freeman, crown prince of New Orleans, and the meanwhile adventures of Death had him paying a pretty big (and disgusting) price!
East of West #9
Oath of a Freeman
I’d like to highlight Dragotta’s art in the “Entertainment District”, as well as Frank Martin’s color palette here. The mood in the club, and the kinetic energy in the street outside is some of Dragotta’s finest work. Martin’s purples, blues, and pinks give off that perfect super-future jazz club feel. Very cool.
Let’s talk about the “Freeman” name. Of course, it’s a pretty common surname, so that’s surface level. It also obviously refers to “freedmen” – former slaves who were legally emancipated or granted manumission by their *shudder* “owners.” John Freeman’s nation is made up of these freedmen, as we’ll see when their participation in the Civil War is described later in the issue. As I understand it from my old American History courses, some freedmen took on the surname “Freeman” after emancipation.
We also see that he is one of 14 sons of the King of New Orleans, but the crown prince to the throne. That must be tough.
All-New Civil War Point One
I’m fascinated by the way that Hickman has set up the odd fallout of the American Civil War in “East of West.” Everything happened very differently, obviously. I’d love to hear him discuss the mechanics of it all more in-depth, but for now we’ll just have to do some speculating.
In Hickman and Dragotta’s Civil War, the freedmen came in huge numbers against the confederacy. This obviously expanded their own bargaining chip in the building of the Seven Nations, as they were owed a great debt for their efforts. (Doubly so because of the injustice of slavery, but the full reparations of that are not discussed in “East of West.”) It also sounds as if tensions didn’t end until a treaty was formed, giving them control of the coastal part of the Nations – and the oil bargaining chip. I’d like to hear more about this development, but I’m guessing threats were made? The King says it was “costly” – perhaps they gave up land of their own to control more of the south? And as a result, reap the benefits of the oil resources.
House of Cards (and Oil)
Without getting too far into current politics, I think we all know what an important resource oil is to the international geopolitical sphere. Interesting that in the America of “East of West”, the freedmen nation has this bargaining chip. It’s a huge chip. It begs another question that I asked in an earlier “This American Death” – what place do the Seven Nations have in the international scheme of things? Perhaps it’s not in Hickman and Dragotta’s interests to ever touch on that, which is fine – I just continue to wonder about it – especially considering how much the Middle East means to the oil game.
We’ve seen some interesting interplay/conflict between Chamberlain and Solomon. Here, the creators might be setting up to show some between Freeman and LaVey. I continue to be impressed by the scope of “East of West” and how Hickman is clearly attempting to give every character the time and depth that they deserve, regardless of how long it takes. Hickman and Dragotta are piecing together an overall narrative that unfolds bit-by-bit, the more we learn about these characters.Continued below
John Freeman can be ruthless and power-hungry, what with the way he treats his brother early on in the issue, but he also clearly labors on the decisions that lie before him. His leadership is important to him and his ability to do right by his people is clearly on his mind. Like most of the characters in this series, there’s plenty of layers to explore. This bargaining chip will play a huge part in that.
Eyes of the Oracle
First of all, how perfectly did Nick Dragotta nail this sequence? Holy cow. Creepy, disgusting, awe-inspiring, cool, insert additional evocative adjective here. Talk about a game-changer that came off exactly as important and shocking as it’s supposed to be. Kudos to Dragotta and Hickman for dropping this very brief scene in this issue and immediately cutting away for the rest of the issue. They sure know how to leave us wanting more.
We’ve heard this character referred to as an “oracle.” Traditionally, oracles are known for their sight – whether literal, figurative, supernatural, or whatever. It’s unclear to us at this point, how long the oracle has been in the state she’s (her?) currently in, or what she was up to before this. However, we have learned that the Four Horsemen took her eyes in a brutal fashion. We just don’t know the reason yet. Again, such a short sequence provides us with so many new questions.
There’s a very key line in here that I’m going to endeavor to interpret. “I see…but I want to see again.” I take it that the oracle can still use whatever mystical abilities of foresight or psionics she possesses. After all, there’s a price to deal with her and she lives in a magical dungeon, deep underground and guarded by a water elemental. It’s as simple as her wanting physical sight again – something everyone probably takes for granted. I like how this plays nicely with an earlier line. Death tells her that he will give her whatever she wants. Anything. She asks, “And if I want more?” How could you want more than anything? It not only illustrates the lengths that Death is willing to go, but also the power of the oracle herself. She has powers untold, but could still want more. In truth, she wants something as seemingly ordinary and everyday as eyesight – yet it means everything. This was perhaps one of “East of West’s” finest scenes.